Monday, February 17, 2014

Shoveling Alone?

A decade or so ago, sociologist Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, in which he basically argued that one could view the decline in bowling leagues as a sign that the commitment of Americans to one another and democracy was declining.  In short, we are starting to care only about ourselves and not others, a danger for any civil society.

I was thinking about Putnam's argument the other day when I was shoveling snow.  In addition to getting a workout shoveling the driveway, I usually shovel the sidewalk in front of my house.  However, I am a rarity on my block, as almost no one else does this, and I was wondering why I bothered to do it myself.

But I find it just common courtesy for pedestrians.  Apparently, my commitment to shoveling the snow from the sidewalk is not shared by most of my neighbors.

I wonder what Putnam would make of that.  I suspect he'd see it as yet another sign that as a society we're in trouble since it seems to suggest that the people who don't shovel the walks don't care about anyone else in their community who might be walking by, who are often the most vulnerable in the community such as kids or people who can't afford a car.

The other day, I even saw someone in a wheelchair choosing to risk being hit by traffic by wheeling down a snowy street rather than risk getting stuck in an unshoveled sidewalk.

Now, my city does have one of those sidewalk plows that buzzes around the city and plows sidewalks (though this is mainly an annoyance for me since it pushes the unshoveled snow of my neighbors' sidewalks onto my shoveled driveway, so I get to shovel twice), so maybe some of my neighbors think that their tax dollars are taking care of the sidewalks, but it seems to take a week for the sidewalk plow to work its way around town, so it isn't exactly a perfect substitute for people shoveling the walk.  And I know some elderly people can't shovel (though my dad's nearly eighty and still shovels the driveway), but they can pay a kid a few bucks to do it.  I wouldn't want to get all feisty and demand the city fine people for not shoveling (some people might be out of town when a snowstorm hits), but, good grief, it would be nice if more people shoveled the sidewalk, and the unshoveled walk was a rarity instead of the norm.

As it currently stands, pedestrians usually just take to the street (many of them like to dress in black and walk around at night--not the greatest combination for safety), while my poor postal carrier has just given up and trudges through knee-high snow in the yards.

As for me, I keep shoveling my bit of the city sidewalk and consider buying a pair of snowshoes for my next walk around the block.    

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